The Memo: France bans TikTok in New Caledonia in response to riots

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France bans TikTok in New Caledonia in response to riots

Madeleine Clarke - 20 May 2024

Following several days of violent riots and looting in the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, the French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal has banned TikTok in the region. This is just one of a series of emergency measures put in place to try to restore peace. 

But first, some historical context: New Caledonia is situated about 900 miles (1500 km) east of Australia and has been a French territory since 1853. Before Europeans arrived in the Pacific region, most residents of the archipelago belonged to the indigenous Kanak people, who make up 41.2% of the population today. In 1998, an agreement called the Nouméa Accord, named after the archipelago’s largest island, aimed to resolve decades of violence carried out by independence movements by recognising the Kanak people as the native inhabitants of the land and granting them special rights over the territory. Consequently, until a few days ago, you had to have resideor had a parent who residein New Caledonia between 1988 and 1998 to vote there. This law aimed to give the Kanak people greater representation in government.   

On Monday 13 May, the French government voted to expand voting rights to those who have lived in the archipelago for at least 10 years on the basis that depriving almost one in five citizens of the right to vote was not democratic. According to a report by the French senate, the number of voters will increase by 14.5%.It is this change to the law that triggered the riots, which have left five dead (including two police officers) and hundreds injured. More than 200 people have been arrested since the riots began the day of the vote. The prime minister decided there was sufficient evidence that rioters were using TikTok to mobilise that access to the platform should be blocked. 

This situation raises legal questions concerning the nature and importance of democracy as well as adding to international concerns over the Chinese social media platform as a threat to the stability of Western countries. The declaration of a state of emergency gives the French government the power to take any measures necessary to restore peace, so the prime minister did not have to go through parliamentary proceedings to ban TikTok – a move which opponents have criticised as undemocratic and even oppressive. The app can still be used in mainland France and other overseas territories. 

Similarly, in November, Nepal’s government banned TikTok, claiming that the main reason for doing so was that the app is “disrupting social harmony. Many other countries now have partial bans on using the app. Meanwhile, TikTok is in danger of being completely banned in the US unless the Chinese company ByteDance sells its stakes in the US version of the app. This is due to concerns that it may be sharing user data with China’s government, which it may be required to do under Chinese law. On home turf, TikTok still operates normally, but is only banned from government devicesHowever, the UK does not yet look ready to follow France, Nepal or the US in proposing a wider-scale ban.